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UCL joins new Max Planck Schools doctoral programme

22 November 2019

UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience has welcomed its first PhD student taking part in the German programme

Professor Patrick Haggard and PhD student Karla Matić

UCL has become the first UK partner in a pioneering doctoral programme based in Germany, investigating human cognitive abilities and the brain processes underlying them.

The PhD programme at the Max Planck School of Cognition offers students advanced training in the different methods and approaches used in the rapidly-evolving field of cognition.

The School of Cognition is a wide collaboration between German universities, Max Planck Institutes and Frauenhofer Institutes and now includes UCL as its first international external partner.

Students can conduct their doctoral research with one of 46 scientific experts at 29 institutions in 16 cities across Germany, the Netherlands and at UCL.

The prestigious, fully-financed programme consists of an orientation year, which includes taught courses and lab rotation periods in different research labs, followed by three years working on their individual research project.

Shedding different light

Karla Matić, from Croatia, is the first PhD student to undertake a placement at UCL. She is spending three months at Professor Patrick Haggard’s lab at UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Her research focuses on voluntary action, how neural activity links to subjective experience of intention, and the possibility of predicting people's actions from their brain activity, using 'brain-computer interfaces'.

Karla said: “I am at UCL for three months and it’s a very exciting and international environment. It is so interesting to work with, and learn from, the group here.  Each researcher sheds a different light on the same question.”

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Network effect

Patrick – who is Vice-Dean International for the Faculty of Brain Sciences – focusses his research on the cognitive neuroscience of voluntary action and Karla was keen to spend time at his lab to learn more.

He said: “We feel that we freely choose and control our own actions. In contrast, neuroscience views actions as the product of specific brain processes, which individuals may then retrospectively rationalise as corresponding to their ‘conscious free will’.  Our research aims to investigate and understand this co-existence of subjective experience and neurophysiological mechanism.

“The Max Planck Schools programme aims to produce a step change in the quality of doctoral training in Germany. UCL has a strong relationship with Max Planck Society, and we also have a long tradition of excellence in PhD training, so this is a great opportunity.

“Doctoral training brings major network effects. In an open and international research group, people learn from each other, and they then build upon the links they make.”

The Max Planck Society (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, MPG) is an independent German non-profit research organisation for basic research in the natural sciences, life sciences, humanities and social sciences.

In the last five years, UCL academics have co-authored more than 400 articles with MPG colleagues.

Since 2014, UCL has additionally hosted the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, led by Professor Ray Dolan.